Soon, the silence on Mars is about to be disrupted by a slight swoosh. Soon, Martians may see an UFO. The rocks and dust that cover the red planet might be in for bigger thrill than they’ve had in ages as NASA has unveiled a new boomerang shaped drone designed to fly the skies of our nearest galactic neighbor.
Prandtl-m would be the name of the craft. It stands for Preliminary Research Aerodynamic Design to Land on Mars. It was designed by engineering students which benefited from an NASA internship in 2013.
The glider will be carried by the next Mars rover which is not to be launched until 2022.
Until then, the glider will be tested here, on Earth, where it will be launched later this year from a balloon at an altitude of 3 thousand meters. Then, in 2016, it is scheduled for a more extensive test which will total five hours of flight. Finally, the last earthly test will see it deployed exactly as it would deploy on Mars. For this, the glider still needs to be fitted with foldable wings so that it can take up as little space as possible before it is launched.
It has a wingspan of two feet and on Earth, the craft weighs in at only 1.17 kilograms. On Mars, due to the much lower gravitational pull, it would weigh more than half of that: 452 grams. The lightness will be determined by the material from which it will be made – either carbon fiber or fiberglass.
The glider will actually be folded like a shirt and attached to the CubeSat mini satellite, which itself will be attached to the next Mars rover. The satellite will deploy when in orbit over Mars, and then it will unleash Prandtl-m to Martian airs.
The aircraft could reach our red neighbor by 2024, the development team says.
But what will it do there, you ask? Take high resolution photos and search for the best possible landing site for the manned Mission to Mars planned for 2030. The scientists are then to determine whether those sites that Prendtl-m will see are sustainable: how much of what is there will remain the same?
So, the Martian skies are the next frontier. Yet, only a small step in the next, bigger goal, which is the very ambitious NASA project – the Martian colony.
Image source: hngn.com